Review: ‘Imaginary Friend’ turns into real-life disappointment

By Elizabeth Casillas, May 11, 2021

Stephen Chbosky’s long-awaited second book, “Imaginary Friend,” was set to follow the success of his first book published in 1999, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” However, unlike its predecessor, the new novel created a division among readers due to its controversial ending.

The horror novel came as a surprise to many readers given that Chbosky’s only other novel followed a young adult trio experiencing high school and emotional anguish. Few expected “Imaginary Friend,” a horror story set in a small Pennsylvania town, to be what Chbosky had been working on for two decades. Despite the high anticipation, the book ended in a disappointment given its hasty conclusion.

“Imaginary Friend” starts off as a strong horror novel. Reminiscent of Stephen King’s “The Shining,” Chbosky describes every single detail as if the readers are standing next to the characters. Throughout the book, readers are treated to vivid descriptions of unnerving figures along with disturbing imagery. The book aims to target every fear out there, and it succeeds in doing so.

Chbosky opens up the novel in Mill Grove, Pennsylvania, a tragic town full of oddities and questionable characters. The main story is told from the perspective of Christopher Reese, an 8-year-old boy, who just moved into town with his mother, Kate Reese. After a brief stint in the Mission Street Woods, a dark and winding forest surrounding the town, Christopher returns to his mother with talk of a newfound friend and newly discovered abilities, which amplify the problems the townsfolk are dealing with.

The author not only tells the story through the perspective of the young boy, but he also dedicates chapters toward fleshing out his mother, the town sheriff and a religious teen obsessed with not ending up in Hell.

Unlike other authors, Chbosky not only aims to scare the audience, but he also forces the readers to form a bond with the characters and adopt their fears and worries throughout the book. His unique narration soaks in readers with every page turn.

The book’s blurb, the only information given before starting the 705-page novel, is resolved in the first third of the book, and the lack of roadmap for the plot adds to the reader’s discomfort level and overall digestion. This is another way in which Chbosky raises the standard for horror books everywhere.

However, what makes the book so divisive with its readers is the ending. Chbosky manages to switch the tone, characters, plot and atmosphere all in the last 25 pages. Readers spend weeks connecting with the town, getting a feel for the characters and forming an idea of what is going on just for Chbosky to go the other way.

This would not be an issue, and some could argue that the convoluted and rushed ending is part of the uneasiness readers seek from the horror genre. But there is a difference between a well-thought-out ending where everything is wrapped nicely and a 25-page ending where a new plot and characters with zero background information are thrown in.

Chbosky, unfortunately, chooses the latter. Major plot points mentioned extensively throughout the book are written out in a few sentences, and the same goes for character development.

Despite the book’s captivating elements in its earlier chapters, “Imaginary Friend” falls short of meeting its expectations, especially for readers who feel that given the 20-year wait, more than a week should have been dedicated to the ending.

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